After the Halloween festivities have concluded, another celebration takes place. Día de los Muertos or in English, “Day of the Dead”, marks a two-day celebration. It is when we remember the souls of loved ones and they cross over from the Other Side and visit. November 1st is traditionally when the souls of children arrive. November 2nd is when the adult souls arrive. It is a happy celebration.
Families will traditionally build an ofrenda dedicated to their deceased loved ones. They are built for weeks leading up to November 1st and November 2nd. Some families will even hire companies to build elaborate ofrendas. However elaborate or modest the ofrendas are, they serve the same purpose of remembering the dead.
People decorate their ofrenda with flowers, like marigolds. Other items on the ofrenda include paper, called papel picado, and cloth or clothing belonging to the loved ones. Families also add photos, favorite foods and beverages, candles, incense, salt, bread known as pan du muerto, sugar skulls, fresh fruit, and more. The items are a gift to the souls after their long journey from the Other Side. Having items such as water and toiletries on the ofrenda is not uncommon.
Gifts for the Dead
The souls that visit take in the essence of the items of the ofrenda, taking away the smell of the flowers, and the taste and nutritional value of the food. Ofrendas are often elaborate and expensive because the families want nothing but the best for their loved ones. Ofrendas are usually indoors, but there are also outdoor ofrendas as well in public buildings, schools, museums, and libraries.
In addition to ofrendas, families clean up their loved ones’ graves. The graves are also decorated with flowers, candles, and other items. Other countries like Spain, Guatemala, and Brazil also celebrate Día de los Muertos.
My ofrenda is usually rather humble with a table-cloth, photos, some fruit, candles, and my loved ones’ favorite foods.
The Sugar Skulls
While sugar skulls are one of the most popular parts of Día de los Muertos, they are more than just looking cute. The art of creating these beautiful items is more than sugar. Celebrants will often adorn their own faces with personal designs with makeup and wear costumes.
One of the most well-known skulls is La Calavera Catrina. She dons an elegant hat and dress, which may be a joke about the Europhile Mexican elite. Jose Guadalupe Posada created La Calavera Catrina around 1910. She became an icon for the Mexican Revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. She is based on Aztec legend, Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead.
Whether it’s an ofrenda, decorating your loved one’s gravesite, or taking a moment, be sure to remember and pay your respects to those who have already made their journey to the Other Side.